[Welcome to “Art Tavana vs. the World,” a monthly column in which L.A. Weekly's angriest (and nerdiest) music critic, Art Tavana, takes on his many nemeses in an ambitious quest to boldly go where no other critic has gone before.]
An open letter to Jason Bentley, KCRW music director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic:
Jason, I'm not your audience. My editor reminds me of this constantly. I'm not the median age of KCRW listeners, who are graying into their mid-40s and 50s (you claim they're younger, but that's mostly your digital audience).
I'm also not a “community service,” which is KCRW's advertising slogan. If anything, I'm a disservice to your uni-culture, like some hooded juvenile trespassing the gated community of KCRW, where you've been a custodian since 2008, when you took over at Morning Becomes Eclectic, and began to gentrify our airwaves with the soothing baritone of your nurturing voice and your bourgeois, “disco vibes all day” whitewashing of our right to rock.
You know what would be really Eclectic? Playing some goddamn metal. So how come you never do?
You've described yourself as the “music director of Los Angeles,” but to me, you're still an EDM DJ — the Ryan Seacrest of rave culture. How else can you explain why you never play any metal or hardcore music, in a city that, in the '80s, birthed glam-metal and thrash and redefined punk as snarling and nihilistic? Do you detest everything guys like me live for, like guitars and leather?
Fact: KCRW mostly ignored the passing of metal legend Lemmy Kilmister. Henry Rollins, who hosts the only interesting KCRW program, blogged about it and played a few Motörhead songs. When yuppiedom's messiah David Bowie died, nearly every show on KCRW ran a Bowie tribute.
I get it, you don't listen to metal or drink Jack Daniels with your Coke. The Annenberg Foundation and your list of donors are too pompous for the anti-intellectual, blue-collar minorities of L.A., who are diehard metalheads and fans of hardcore. You ignore their voices because Moby and other unbearably white, monied supporters fill your coffers with all the cash you need to suffocate your 500,000 listeners with a playlist of mostly folk, synth-pop, dance music, cool jazz and esoteric world music (which also ignores metal — even though metal is now, by definition, “world music”).
At best, your playlist is elevator music for hipsters — sexless, boring and offensively decent. At worst, it divides L.A. by both class and culture, representing the tastes of a narrow slice of the community you claim to serve at the expense of everyone else.
Sources confirm: KCRW has ignored L.A.'s most popular contemporary metal band, Deafheaven. Their latest record, New Bermuda, which Pitchfork rated a 9 out of 10, hasn't been played on the station (not a single track), while local record store Vacation Vinyl did the service of introducing L.A. to the band in 2013 by hyping up their previous album, Sunbather, to everyone that walked in.
Look, you've done some good, like helping introduce Ariel Pink and Warpaint to NPR listeners. Moby says KCRW has made Los Angeles “a better place to live.” Maybe he's right. More richies listening to First Aid Kit means less crime; I support that.
But when you took the reigns of MBE as the new voice of indie, you had the opportunity to fill the void left behind when Indie 103.1 collapsed (less than two months after you took over), or give the disenchanted KROQ listener something other than Metallica and the Chili Peppers. You could have done something bold, like create a spot for Full Metal Jackie to host a metal show on KCRW. Instead, she's now on KLOS playing only signed metal groups, like Deafheaven and Holy Grail, because corporate radio won't give her a platform to break bands. You could have been a reformer; instead you became just another custodian of an outdated institution, spinning bland indie-pop acts like alt-J and Phoenix — which is a band you introduced to L.A., which is almost as bad a move as Nic Harcourt (your predecessor) shoving Coldplay down our throats.
Loyola Marymount's KXLU, a student-run station that's also publicly funded, is way more progressive. It still takes chances, because it isn't beholden to a consortium of risk-averse Volvo drivers and ex-ravers. “KCRW has definitely shifted toward more electronic music and dance,” says Christoph Neumann, music director at KXLU, who doesn't get very many metal submissions from bands, or requests from listeners, but still plays the genre. “Which is kind of a shame. Most people don't even know we play metal, but every once in a while I'll play it on my show, and people will thank me. We don't ignore the minority.”
KXLU is now the alternative to your repetitive sameness. It owns L.A.'s youth, the few that still listen to radio, who might actually have listened to KCRW if you weren't so obvious. But KXLU, even with its own festival, doesn't affect culture as KCRW does. KXLU's dedicated metal show, Doom, Gloom, and Happier Things, doesn't get covered in the L.A. Times or Rolling Stone.
KCRW is L.A.'s indie antenna. You have a large, professional staff of college-educated men and women with energy-efficient vehicles, and you're keepers of a ridiculously intuitive website that showcases all 20-odd music shows on KCRW (with hosts that, except for Rollins, look like satirical Portlandia characters). On your website, by the way, I found 55 results for Sufjan Stevens and just one for Deafheaven. You would think with that many shows and DJs, there'd be less homogeneity, but your playlists seem more restrictive than KROQ's.
I asked KCRW for some comment on this, and station president Jennifer Ferro replied via email: “At KCRW, DJs play what they love. We don't have any restrictions on genre, so what they're playing is what they're into right now.” Jason, is this true? So what's all this about being the “musical director of Los Angeles,” or your role as “curator” of KCRW's playlist? Are you the Wizard of Oz?
Look, I know your morning audience doesn't want abrasive music by local metal bands like Volahn, Intronaut, Exmortus or whoever else L.A. Weekly metal critic Jason Roche tells me I need to listen to. MBE is mostly just Musak for UCLA professors and art-gallery connoisseurs. I get that. But I'm not asking you to change your flagship program.
And truth be told, you've done a lot for the electronic dance music scene, from your sessions on KROQ to Metropolis on KCRW to even helping dance and electronic music get its own Grammy category. Which is all well and good. But wake up, man! This isn't an EDM town; we're pissed-off Angenelos with rising rents, endless traffic jams — even our fuckin' water is running out! Metal speaks to that; soothing synths do not.
And make no mistake, metal is on the rise again. On Sunset Boulevard, we're in the process of building a Lemmy statue in front of the Rainbow Bar & Grill; next door, the Roxy is booking more metal, thanks to Goldenvoice, and oh yeah, Guns N' Roses just reunited. Have you heard of them? They're from L.A., although one of your DJs (who shall remain nameless) said they “could care less” [sic] that the biggest band on the planet is reuniting.
Even the Wall Street Journal recently recognized the “global impact of metal.” So how can you, the voice of a city that redefined the genre, ignore it with such arrogant disregard? Like KCRW DJ Jason Kramer, who recently told me he played “War Pigs” on his show but says he's never played any black metal. Because, and I quote, “You've got Spotify for that.” He also asked if I was going to “ask for polka next.” Apparently, KCRW DJs think metal is a joke, or somehow tackier than Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Stupid tweets: Why would you shame Skrillex and Diplo for wanting to rock at the Grammys? I think the “community” you represent deserves an all-inclusive music director — not this:
— Jason Bentley (@jason_bentley) February 16
Did you really not know that Skrillex started off in a rock band? He was the lead singer of post-hardcore band From First to Last. Look it up.
Jason, there's a young and very loyal metal audience who've been ignored by KCRW. Your staff and DJs still seem to see metal as cartoony and misogynistic — even a bit Neanderthal. The same sort of unfair stereotypes exist in your world, where EDM DJs are unfairly portrayed as bottle-service “e-tards” who dress like Russian mobsters. I know KXLU gets angry emails like “loops and beats are disgusting” when it plays electronic music, which is just as narrow-minded as you blacklisting metal from your playlist.
I'm asking you to bypass your snobby donors, embrace our city's rising black-metal scene and become an ambassador for all sounds considered, including metal.
L.A.'s loudest and most ignored genre needs to stop being left out of your definition of “eclectic.” Think about it. You could be like Rodney Bingenheimer, who introduced listeners to punk at KROQ when it wasn't popular, or Tom Donahue at KMPX, who had the chutzpah to criticize Top 40. Even Carson Daly ignored his bosses at KROQ, at least once, and helped break Marilyn Manson.
“He makes Nic Harcourt look like Axl Rose.” That's how one resident of Santa Monica described you. Is that what you want your legacy at KCRW to be?
P.S. In the process of writing you, I decided to become a member of KCRW. I will encourage my fellow metalheads to do the same. Maybe if enough of us pledge, you'll finally have to listen to our collective death growl.